Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah says the release of Taliban prisoners by the government would be beneficial for both sides and would help move the Afghan peace process forward.
Abdullah’s statement came after Afghanistan’s National Security Council announced on March 25 that government officials are set to meet with a Taliban delegation in the coming days to discuss an initial release of militant prisoners.
Abdullah told a news conference in Kabul on March 26 that he is ready for talks to resolve Afghanistan’s ongoing political crisis which he said was “not in the interest” of anyone.
Following a video conference between council members and Taliban representatives, council spokesman Javid Faisal tweeted on March 25, “A Taliban team will meet with the government face-to-face in Afghanistan in the coming days” to further discuss the release of 100 prisoners by March 31.
The detainees would be freed on humanitarian grounds “after guarantees by Taliban and the prisoners that they will not re-enter the fight,” Faisal wrote.
U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who took part in the video conference, said the sides “agreed prisoner releases by both sides will start March 31.”
The video conference “decided that the release of the prisoners will practically start by the end of March,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter.
President Ashraf Ghani has said the government would initially free 1,500 prisoners, while the Taliban has demanded 5,000 as a precondition for talks with Kabul.
Khalilzad has said a prisoner release has become more urgent because of the spread of coronavirus.
The development could help break a deadlock that has held up negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government under a U.S.-brokered peace process.
The peace process has been further hampered by a feud between Abdullah and Ghani, who have both claimed.Afghanistan’s presidency after a contested election in September.
The U.S. State Department announced on March 23 that it was slashing $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to convince Ghani and Abdullah to end the feud and form an inclusive government to advance the peace process.
Abdullah on March 26 said the U.S. aid cut will cause serious trouble for Afghanistan, and it can’t be compensated in any way.
An agreement signed in Doha on February 29 by the United States and the Taliban could lead to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of a peace process aimed at bringing an end to the Afghan conflict.
The United States has said it is committed to reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan from about 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days of signing the deal.